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close this bookSanitation Promotion (SIDA - SDC - WSSCC - WHO, 1998, 292 p.)
close this folderGaining political will and partnership
close this folderPrinciples and guidelines
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View the documentAdvocacy for sanitation - Sara Wood1 and Mayling Simpson-Hébert2
View the documentMobilizing the media for sanitation promotion - WHO, Geneva, Switzerland
View the documentMobilizing partners for sanitation promotion - Sara Wood1 and Mayling Simpson-Hébert2
View the documentPrivate-sector involvement in promoting sanitation - Sara Wood1
View the documentSocial marketing for sanitation programmes - Sunil Mehra1

Private-sector involvement in promoting sanitation - Sara Wood1

1 WHO Consultant, Geneva, Switzerland.

The rapidly developing trend of private-sector involvement in manufacturing and distribution of sanitation hardware bodes well for the sector. Private enterprise often brings with it competitive pricing and better service than that offered through public provision. In addition, the private sector's increasing interest in utility partnerships will bring new sources of finance and expertise to sanitation. These trends, which contribute significantly to sustainability in the sector, are being fostered worldwide.

This article looks at another opportunity for engaging the private sector in promoting sanitation. It shows how private industry, through its use of promotion programmes in the workplace, can be instrumental in motivating people to improve their sanitation and hygiene practices.

Is there evidence that private-sector promotion can work?

Only anecdotal evidence exists of the success of private-sector promotion of sanitation (see Box 1), but the success of this approach in other health-related initiatives has been well-documented. For example, the private sector supports healthier, more active life-styles by sponsoring sporting events, providing physical exercise facilities at workplaces, and manufacturing food products with less fat, fewer calories and greater amounts of fibre. Advertisements for healthy manufactured food products advocate that their purchase will lead to a better, healthier quality of life.

Sanitation needs innovative approaches and the private sector's participation in promoting sanitation presents an opportunity that should be seized.

What opportunities are there for the private sector to promote sanitation?

Various opportunities exist for the private sector to get involved in promoting sanitation, depending on the relevant company's type of business. Examples of private-sector promotion follow.

Company-based hygiene improvement programmes

Success in the food and beverage industry is directly linked to high food safety and hygiene standards. These companies have a vested interest in promoting improved hygiene behaviours and improving sanitation facilities in the workplace. They are likely to be very responsive to increasing their effectiveness in these areas because of the direct impact on their business objectives. Some multinational companies already support sanitation programmes in several countries, but this opportunity could be developed with a specially targeted programme.

Box 1. Private sector promotion of sanitation in Indonesia

In April 1997, Unilever, a multinational manufacturing company and Lintas an international advertising agency, combined forces to develop a television advertisement for a World Bank-supported hygiene and sanitation education programme. The Hygiene and Sanitation Education Programme is part of a wider Water Supply and Sanitation Project for Low-income Communities (WSSLIC).

WSSLIC is a project targeting poor communities without adequate water and sanitation facilities in six provinces of eastern Indonesia. In total the project is expected to reach over two million people in 1400 villages. The project is coordinated by the National Development Planning Board which brings together contributions from government ministries, nongovernmental organizations and private enterprise.

The objectives of the project are to:

- provide safe, adequate and easily accessible water supply and sanitation services;
- support hygiene and health education aimed at improving hygiene practices; and
- alleviate poverty.

Budget limitations for the hygiene and sanitation education component of the project, and the need to develop of a public service television advertisement, led to and alliance between the Regional Water and Sanitation Group for East Asia and Pacific (RWSGEAP) and the advertising agency Lintas. This collaboration resulted in the production and free airing of a television advertisement. The television advertisement targeted children with the message that they should wash their hands after defecation. The advertisement featured animated characters and special sound effects.

After the initial free playing of the advertisement on the national television network, Unilever funded the reproduction of the advertisement and the cost of advertising it on Indonesia's five private television channels. The logos of the contributing organizations appeared at the end of the advertisement.

The success of this collaboration has led project personnel at the World Bank to look for other private sector companies to involve in other aspects of WSSLIC.

Source: personal correspondence, Ratna I. Josodipoero, Regional Water and Sanitation Group for East Asia and Pacific (RWSGEAP),World Bank, Jakarta, email

Tourism is another industry that could benefit directly if sanitation is improved in the countries it promotes. Its support in promoting initiatives to improve sanitary conditions, by providing financial assistance for such public campaigns as national sanitation day, for example, could be explored further.

Example-setting by the private sector

Private-sector employers have the opportunity to set a good example and act as important influences for wide-scale acceptance of more effective methods of excreta disposal and the adoption of hygiene behaviours necessary for improved health.

This is especially pertinent to employers that provide housing for workers. These companies could take this opportunity to set an example for appropriate excreta disposal facilities, demonstrate alternative technologies, and introduce hygiene behaviour-change campaigns to encourage workers to adopt new practices.

Private-sector social responsibility

Private-sector employers have a social responsibility to their workers which they can exercise by introducing health-promoting activities in the workplace. This has been done with AIDS, where trucking companies have launched educational campaigns to encourage their drivers to use condoms. The companies in question have recognized that their workers, who travel extensively throughout the country, could pose a risk to themselves and the areas they visit. By supporting safe sex messages, companies are fulfilling their responsibility to their workers and the public.

The private sector should be encouraged to adopt such a role and to fulfil its responsibility as a corporate citizen by protecting and advancing the health of its employees. The benefits of increased employee loyalty, consumer preference, and a favourable public image are the likely outcomes of such employer-supported activities.

What are the advantages of the private sector undertaking a promotional role?

Public influence. The private sector, as individual companies and as a whole, can reach a vast number of workers daily and therefore has an unparalleled opportunity to influence positively the beliefs and opinions of these people towards sanitation. Furthermore, the high profile and respect that many private-sector organizations have in the community make them a powerful advocacy force.

Communication expertise. The private sector is also well-versed in the use of marketing and communication strategies, which they use to reach the public and influence their behaviour. These strategies could be employed to promote health by adopting new or improved behaviours.

Improved economic performance. Improved employee health as a result of private-sector promotion will lead to greater economic productivity. Cost savings on health services owing to lower rates of the diseases normally associated with poor sanitation will also have a positive economic impact. These results will not be achieved in the short term. Their achievement will result from a consistent long-term commitment to health and economic improvement.

New funding sources. Private-sector participation in promoting sanitation is a new opportunity to increase available funds for improving sanitation coverage. Government financial resources are shrinking and this situation is unlikely to improve in the short term. New avenues for funding are required and the private sector is an important and relatively under-utilized source.

How can the private sector be encouraged to get involved in promoting sanitation?

The private sector will promote sanitation if it is convinced that in doing so it will be advancing its own interests. Thus, the challenge for a sanitation programme manager lies in developing a strategy to convince prospective private-sector companies of the benefits of investing in sanitation promotional activities. The advantages have to be clearly demonstrated to show how they will positively affect the goals and objectives of the company from which support is being sought. Suggestions on a systematic approach that might be used are provided for your guidance. They are based on lessons learned in obtaining sponsorship funding in a commercial environment, but are relevant to this situation as it is the process that is important.

Steps in generating private-sector participation in sanitation promotion

· Identify prospective private-sector companies.
· Develop a proposal.
· Raise awareness.
· Demonstrate benefits of involvement.
· Develop the funding/sponsorship opportunity.
· Integrate with other activities in the development sector.
· Monitor and evaluate.